CONSTITUENCY STATEMENTS: Riverina Electorate: Altina Wildlife Park

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (10:42): I had the rare honour yesterday of officially opening a new lion enclosure at what is a truly remarkable wildlife park in the Riverina. Altina Wildlife Park near Darlington Point, a little more than 50 kilometres west of Narrandera on the Sturt Highway, is a 207-hectare sanctuary run by Gino Altin and his wife, Gloria, with daughter, Rebecca Surian, as head animal keeper.

This outstanding safari park is set among ancient river red guns next to the mighty Murrumbidgee River. The owners have a noble mission to conserve wildlife and the environment and, in doing so, educate the public. Altina, literally, has a Noah's Ark array of all things fast and furry, including African Cape hunting dog, African spotted hyena, Asian water buffalo, banteng, giraffe, Himalayan tahr, maned wolf, North American bison, scimitar-horned oryx—the list goes on and on. There are some green alligators and long-necked geese, and even humpty backed camels. One of the attendants, Ben Maples, who is enjoying this role far more than his former job at an abattoirs, reckons that if visitors look hard enough they would even find a unicorn. 

Certainly, Altina gives visitors an up-close-and-personal experience with the wildlife, some of which are endangered species, so the park's breeding program is helping in that respect. For sure the 'mane attraction'—pardon the pun—are the lions. There are two rare African white lions, a breeding pair Bella and Tim, and two magnificent tawny lions, Narla and her son Jabari. The four lions have taken 'pride of place' in their new, spacious surrounds. It is a wonderful place. The animals are lively but contented. They are well looked after in a roomy, almost free-range environment. 

Altina Wildlife Park opened in mid November 2004 and last year catered for 5,000 visitors, all by appointment. The park is the realisation of a lifelong dream of Gino who has pumped $2 million into the project. Earlier this year he nearly had his hard work and investment washed away by the great March flood. Murrumbidgee River floodwaters swamped the park—a good thing the crocodiles were safely housed—and cost the operation a $140,000 repair bill. 

Gino received no government assistance because he has another business in Griffith, which is a successful precasting concrete company, and has missed out on getting any grants the whole way through since his animal park began to take shape. He has done it all on his own with a little help from his friends. 
In their first week the carnivores chewed through a combined 160 kilograms of meat. There are only 130 white lions in captivity worldwide and very few left in the wild. As for the future of Altina Wildlife Park, Gino has plans to add red pandas, rhinoceroses, servals, tigers and even Tasmanian devils—a very much threatened marsupial. 

The Riverina has many outstanding tourist attractions, and this is amongst the best. It is an example of entrepreneurial spirit, someone having a vision and making a go of it, and strong local community support. Certainly the newly arrived lions will play their part at Altina. Given their size and majesty, I am sure they will guarantee the park is a 'roaring' success. (Time expired)

Cristy Houghton